Last week, former Pelham Mayor David Augustyn penned a letter to the editor for the Niagara dailies regarding his successors in Town Hall. Pelham Town Council’s failure in his eyes? Ultimately accepting something that is being forced upon the Town, and to which it has no capacity to object or block.
It’s like yelling at someone for stopping at a red light. The driver doesn’t have any choice in the matter if they want to obey the law and not get T-boned. Blaming them for the light being red doesn’t make traffic flow any faster.
For those who have been following the goings-on at Town Hall, you will know that more than a month ago council was provided with reports from both Regional and Town staff, indicating what Pelham’s growth targets were required to be—29,000 residents by 2041—and further indicating where the Region was prepared to allow expansion of the Town’s urban boundaries to accommodate this growth.
Town Council accepted the reports. It had no choice. The Town (like all Niagara municipalities) has been told by upper levels of government that it must grow, there is plenty of housing demand, and most of the coming growth is being channeled to two select areas, where servicing is or will be available.
This makes sense, and to the extent that growth will occur in these designated areas one silver lining is that there may be less infill development in long-established neighbourhoods —less cramming of second dwellings onto large lots—which could reduce future anxiety around development. There will also be additional property tax revenue to help pay down the Augustyn council’s poor finance decisions while in office.
The provincial government generates what’s known as its Provincial Policy Statement—“PPS” in planning lingo —to which all local municipal planners and councils must make reference and show deference. Niagara Region takes the PPS and determines, across the peninsula, how it will meet its growth targets (again: set by Ontario), where that growth will happen, and tries to ensure that there is a mix of housing types in all parts of Niagara.
At the local level, municipalities such as Pelham already have two-thirds of their decisions imposed upon them before the municipal council even gets to hear an application.
Pelham doesn’t get to negotiate its population target, and the urban growth boundary is set by Niagara Region. The Region wants most of Pelham’s growth to occur on the south and east sides of Fonthill, near our borders with Thorold and Welland.
As best the Voice can determine, and directly contrary to what the former mayor claims, the lands chosen are not environmentally significant. To the extent that there are some natural features requiring protection, this will be accomplished through a combination of Town development standards and guidance from the NPCA.
Given David Augustyn’s track record of paying for the MCC based on a scheme to sell municipally owned lands to real estate developers, his criticism of the current council chasing dollars through development marks a new low in his hypocritical hyperbole—and that’s a deep well indeed.
What the (one fervently hopes forever) former mayor imagines he’ll gain by scolding this council for doing its basic duty, and accepting things it has no real way to oppose, is baffling.
This paper has not always agreed with or supported the current council’s planning decisions. Most disappointingly, the controlling faction, dubbed the Gang of Four, puts little effort into affordable options and seems always to oppose those aspects of developments that include the least expensive housing. Memorably, even a pedestrian-friendly sidewalk got the heave-ho.
But it is pointless to criticize this council over growth targets or development in specific locations over which it has no control. It is futile to champion engaging in a battle with the Region and province which cannot be won. The former mayor knows this. For what purpose he believes his kamikazi posturing will benefit him we can only speculate—and pray that is does not involve the seeking of further elective office.
A dubious land-for-credits scheme, a $36 million-dollar community centre debt whose repayment is ultimately a yoke around Pelham ratepayers’ necks, and the brook trout-threatening “Lake Augustyn,” are more than enough legacy for one lifetime. ◆